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COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: Senior residence meeting #2

Posted by Elwin Green on July 17, 2012 at 10:20 AM

So, the second community meeting about the senior residence planned for 524 N. Homewood Ave. was held last night at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. A crowd of more than 100 people packed the first-floor meeting room.

I am writing from memory now, because I didn't take notes and I haven't yet gone through the time-consuming process of reviewing the videos. If you'd like to offer corrections, chime in.

As before, Councilman Ricky V. Burgess had some opening words, followed by project architect Ken Doyno giving a slideshow presentation - essentially the same presentation that he did last week, modified to include answers to questions that were asked last week, such as the size of the windows in the building.

Then Andy Haines, of S&A Homes, took the floor. He was to begin with answering questions left over from last week, which had been written down, then move into a open Q and A. But he opened with what he assumed would be the first thing on everyone's mind - the issue of who would be hired on work on the building. He said, "Our goal on this project is to have 30 to 40 percent WBE/MBE participation" - that is, to have women- or minority-owned businesses do 30 to 40 percent of the work (okay, I just checked the video.). The general tone of responses from the audience was that either A) they didn't believe him, or B) that's not enough.

Calvin Clinton of the African-American Workers Union spoke at length. I don't recall that he actually asked a question. His core message seemed to be, "You need to employ AAWU people on this project." Haines expressed willingness to work with him, as well as with Rashad Byrdsong, whose Community Empowerment Association has a construction company spinoff, Ma'at Construction.

Ed Gainey, as before, spoke about the need to build trust. 

On the whole, I would say that there were more people making statements and declaring their positions than asking questions. A couple of questions that I do recall, as best as I recall them: What about the fumes from buses on the Busway? Ken Doyno's response: the building's intake system will be far enough from the Busway for that not to be a problem. How many off-street parking spaces will there be? 14 - which some believe is not enough. Will non-senior disabled people be eligible to live in this building? No, all residents must be 55 or older. How much capital do the developers have in this project? Andy Haines responded by describing what they could lose if the project doesn't work - namely, the $9-10 million that investors are expecting from the tax credits - which is not quite the same thing as saying what the developers have put in.

Rashad Byrdsong, well-known as a man who will readily express opposition to anything he disagrees with, said at the first meeting, "This is gonna happen." I think he reiterated that last night, in an attempt to move people beyond opposing the project to negotiating benefits from the project. Still, near the end, one gentleman stood and asked if there was any legal way to stop it. Councilman Burgess responded with, "I don't know why you would want to," and followed with a passionate expostulation about this project being a small start to much bigger things.

MY TAKE: A great big mess, resulting primarily from poor communications, which in turn result largely from the fact that there is no body of residents in Homewood who communicate among themselves and with their neighbors to decide how we want things to go before the public meeting, and who have sufficient size and credibility to negotiate. A lot of what happened last night, and last week, was attempted negotiation in the form of public confrontation, and it was inappropriate for several reasons: first, because effective negotiation typically occurs more privately, between parties authorized or designated to represent constituencies; second, because in negotiation you are only as powerful as the size of your constituency acknowledged by your counterpart; third, because I'm pretty sure that the majority of people in the room, whose emotions were being appealed to, don't know beans about either development or labor negotiations; and finally because it distracted from the sharing of useful information. Simply put, there should have been a separate meeting for that. And it should have happened - or at the very least, the preparation for it should have happened - as soon as the news got out that this project was being submitted for the state tax credit. And that news got out in September of last year, right here on Homewood Nation.

That's my take. If you were there last night, what's yours?

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The Homewood Chronicles

Oct. 2005 - March 2010

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In October 2005, after a bullet came through his living room window, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Elwin Green began writing "My Homewood," the first blog on the P-G's website. For 4 1/2 years, "My Homewood" shared stories of tragedy and beauty, of perplexity and hope - stories that live again in "The Homewood Chronicles."

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